clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How Much Does the Third Preseason Game Matter?

New, comments
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

People like to talk up the third preseason game. It is generally a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Teams spend this week emulating their preparation for real games. There tends to be more game planning than the typical preseason game. Starters usually go at least a half.

That got me wondering how significant the third preseason game was for successful teams. I decided to go back ten years and look at how the four teams that ended up in the conference championship games performed. I only looked at the first half because that tends to be the period the starters play. Obviously this isn't perfect. It doesn't account for the strength of the opponent. Some teams might play their starters into the third quarter. Others might sit out key guys. I think going back ten years at least should put us into the ballpark, though. Here is how I found the first half went for these forty teams from biggest halftime lead to biggest halftime deficit. Please note these were done by hand.

Year Team Score Opp. Score Differential
2009 Saints 31 0 31
2008 Eagles 24 3 21
2006 Patriots 20 0 20
2004 Falcons 24 7 17
2006 Colts 17 0 17
2013 49ers 20 7 13
2010 Packers 28 17 11
2007 Packers 10 0 10
2012 Ravens 13 3 10
2009 Vikings 17 10 7
2005 Panthers 16 10 6
2007 Giants 12 6 6
2012 Falcons 9 3 6
2004 Patriots 14 10 4
2009 Jets 17 13 4
2004 Steelers 17 14 3
2007 Patriots 10 7 3
2008 Cardinals 3 0 3
2005 Steelers 10 10 0
2005 Broncos 17 17 0
2007 Chargers 17 17 0
2013 Seahawks 3 3 0
2010 Jets 5 6 -1
2004 Eagles 14 17 -3
2009 Colts 7 10 -3
2005 Seahawks 10 14 -4
2006 Bears 6 10 -4
2008 Steelers 3 7 -4
2011 Giants 3 7 -4
2010 Bears 0 7 -7
2011 Ravens 14 21 -7
2013 Broncos 10 20 -10
2012 Patriots 7 20 -13
2013 Patriots 3 16 -13
2008 Ravens 3 17 -14
2010 Steelers 3 17 -14
2012 49ers 10 24 -14
2006 Saints 0 17 -17
2011 49ers 7 24 -17
2011 Patriots 10 34 -24

Some of the highlights:

  • The exact same number of teams led at halftime and were behind at halftime, 18 each. There were 4 teams tied.
  • In terms of blowouts, the results were similarly even. 9 teams had a double digit lead while 9 trailed by double digits.
  • The aggregate point differential is +19 points in all of the games played. That means these teams led at halftime by an average of 0.4 points.
  • There were only two games where teams that went on to the final four that year played each other, Steelers-Eagles in 2004 and Colts-Saints in 2006. Neither of these ended up being Playoff matchups.
  • The 2006 Bears played the Cardinals in the third game of the preseason. Dennis Green made reference to this preseason matchup a few months later in his "Bears are who were thought they were," meltdown.

So the data suggests there really isn't any strong correlation between a deep Playoff run and the performance of the starters in the third preseason game. The results were all over the map. Shocking, huh? It's probably a reminder of how we can make too much out of preseason. There are certainly things that matter. Certain individual performances can be important in the proper context. Going through the in season routine also probably has some value.

Just don't get too high or low when it comes to the result, no matter how important people make it out to be.